Poverty Indicators: How Do We Measure Change in a Person’s Life?

By: René Muhindo (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Evaluations are conducted about all aspects of modern life. They are an intrinsic part of the research conducted by the most renowned humanitarian and state institutions. They allow us to delve into the core of countries, institutions, or projects to measure the current rate of advancement.

However, there are evaluations that are not exhaustively carried out. In terms of poverty, for example, when we say that a country is ranked at a certain level worldwide, this ranking can show a disastrous situation in relation to other countries, even when this does not reflect reality. In fact, most situations on the ground are not as they appear through incomplete evaluations. Recently, this complexity has again created controversy concerning the poverty index of $1 a day. This is why more multidimensional indicators have been developed.

What disturbs me about all of this is the severity of certain indicators. They make people believe that certain populations, societies or people are living in hell. In a 2010 report, one organization presented the province of Sud-Kivu where I live as having a poverty rate of 84%. A friend from Senegal who had read it teased me, saying, “It sounds like you live in hell, my friend!”

What more can I say? Three weeks ago, I heard someone say, “I used to be very poor, I was humiliated whenever I did my work as a porter and I was ashamed of approaching people. People do not realize it, but now my life has changed greatly…. When I say that, people respond, ‘But you are always poorly dressed, and still doing the same work. How has your life changed?’ What changed is that I learned about the stories of other families who used to live in extreme poverty in Noisy-le-Grand (France). I understood that to move forward they needed to face the shame and contempt head on. Knowing the efforts they made gave me a lot of courage. I gave up feeling shame and I continue struggling to support my family everyday.”

Mr. André Kahiro Mulamba has helped me to realize that human dignity, as it is recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, grants each of us the freedom to be aware of our own evolution. That is what is not shown by most evaluations of poverty. There is nothing in these evaluations to show the positive sides of the people spoken about. When a man living in poverty says that his life has changed in a community, his own neighbours don’t believe him. People look only at the fact that he wears the same clothes, his house hasn’t been fixed, his work remains the same, etc.…

Nevertheless, deep down inside him, he knows things have changed in his life. At times this change is something immeasurable. It may be the gratifying acknowledgement of his dignity by members of his community, or it could be a growing sense of harmony with his wife and children. Perhaps his children are succeeding at school. Or he has overcome his sense of shame. Maybe he has increased his numbers of poultry or livestock, or he has been able to join in a local group. Or it may be something private that he cannot announce.

Therefore, in evaluating it is useful to take all of the multidimensional social aspects into account, whether or not they generate tangible results in the future. Everyone is thus first and foremost responsible and best able to assess the progress made in their own lives.

René Bagunda MUHINDO, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2016

In Senegal, young people from a poor community work together in flooded areas of the capital

In Senegal, young people from a poor community work together in flooded areas of the capital

To read about new research being done by people in poverty to improve indicators of poverty, please click here.

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